Little did the world know before the mid-1800s that an expansive, detailed work of literature from the Third Dynasty of Ur was about to be discovered. Described as the world’s first great work of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh is normally thought an applicable document to portray the first inklings of humanity. As history tells any careful reader, clearly this is not the case. The Epic of Gilgamesh and the characters within the epic poem are instead descriptive representations of a certain time period documented once for lore. This instance and the epic story brings forth many questions: what does it mean to be a god? A friend? Most importantly, what does it mean to be a man? I argue that the relationship between Enkidu and Gilgamesh defines masculinity to be a trait of willful action to control nature or those things considered “wild”. This is accomplished in the following ways. First, Gilgamesh’s taming of Enkidu is done very consciously, but with reflection later in the poem Gilgamesh tames his own harsh actions. Second, the physical monsters the two men face are vilified: both in their physical form and actions.
The introduction of Enkidu is presented as a foil to Gilgamesh: a completely wild creature that can only match Gilgamesh for strength. In order to lessen the fear of that power being used for crude purposes, Gilgamesh enacts a civilizing campaign of Enkidu. The prostitute sent to seduce Enkidu is done with the intent that “the wild beasts that shared his life in the hills will reject him” (Gilgamesh 64). Though meaning the literal animals of the forest Enkidu originally lived with, this line may also serve a metaphorical purpose as...
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...tation of the two working together could easily applied to the rest of society: the city had to otherize these supernatural beings in order to maintain their civilization and defend it from potential enemies.
In the final analysis, masculinity is a specifically defined construct for the characters in The Epic of Gilgamesh. Masculinity, and masculine actions, are encompassed by taming whatever is considered to be “wild”. This is demonstrated with Gilgamesh’s physical taming of Enkidu and then his own personal introspective taming of actions. Additionally, non-human creatures are disparaged based on their appearance and actions. Though supernatural in style, this epic poem creates an important societal definition of what it means to be a man. For that time, the best men were the ones who happened to take actions to preserve the civilization: defense from the wild.
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